Cablegate: Egypt: Pope Shenouda and Papal Succession


DE RUEHEG #4243/01 1910736
R 100736Z JUL 06





E.O. 12958: N/A


1. (SBU) SUMMARY: Pope Shenouda III, head of Egypt's sizeable
Coptic Orthodox Church for the last three decades, returned
to Cairo July 9 after receiving treatment for back and kidney
problems in Cleveland. Although it appears the Pope will
recover fully, change in the Coptic Orthodox Church has
become a subject of avid debate in Egyptian media outlets,
with some publications suggesting possible successors to the
papacy. Separately, Russian-ordained Max Michel, the
self-proclaimed Bishop Maximous of the unlicensed St.
Athanasious Church, has declared his denomination to be
separate from Pope Shenouda's authority. END SUMMARY.

The Diagnosis

2. (U) On June 18, Pope Shenouda, age 83, flew to Germany,
where doctors diagnosed back and kidney problems. Back
surgery in Germany was ruled out after doctors determined the
Pope's kidneys were in need of treatment. Pope Shenouda then
flew to Cleveland on June 22 for further treatment. On July
6, the Papal Residence announced that the Pope was in good
health, but publicly acknowledged a kidney problem. Bishop
Morcos, Coptic Orthodox Church spokesman, told poloff that
the Pope's kidney problem has been "fully treated" but
offered no details. Pope Shenouda is expected to address his
health during a July 10 press conference from the papal

Speculation From Back Home

3. (U) Although the Pope's condition appears not to be
terminal, his health episode has fanned speculation about
succession in the Church. Independent and opposition
newspapers call him the most charismatic Pope in modern times
and have followed his condition and treatment journey
closely. All major newspapers recently reported on President
Mubarak's three phone calls to the Pope. Eleven of the
Coptic Church's top bishops traveled June 28 to visit him in
Cleveland. Egyptian media outlets have also mulled potential
successors, including Bishop You'ens, the Pope's first
secretary; Bishop Mousa, Bishop of Youth Affairs; and Bishop

Bishoy, metropolitan of Domietta dioceses.

--------------------------------------------- -----
Succession Scenario and Appointing an Acting Pope
--------------------------------------------- -----

4. (U) Under existing church rules, if the papacy becomes
vacant the eldest bishop or metropolitan would convene the
Holy Synod Council (100-plus bishops who carry out papal
policy) and the Board of the Coptic Orthodox Endowment to
choose a metropolitan or a bishop as acting pope. To assume
the papacy, acting or permanent, a nominee must be an
unmarried celibate monk with fifteen years of service,
Egyptian, and at least 40 years of age. The Acting Pope must
be chosen within 7 days of the vacancy. President Mubarak
would issue a Presidential Decree appointing the acting pope,
until a new pope is elected. No modifications to the
church's laws or regulations are allowed during this period.

Nominating and Electing a New Pope

5. (U) To choose the next permanent Pope, the Holy Synod
Council identifies an initial group of nominees within 30
days after the papacy becomes vacant. Following an internal
vote, the Holy Council forwards names to a Nomination
Committee, headed by the Acting Pope and including clergy and
members of Board of the Coptic Endowment (Note: The Acting
Pope is therefore not eligible to become pope. End note). The
Nomination Committee rejects those individuals who are not
qualified and forwards three to seven names to an Election
Committee, consisting of the metropolitan, bishops, heads of
monasteries and their deputies and treasurers, and 12 priests
from Cairo. The Election Committee oversees a vote for three
finalists. Eligible voters include all those who are
Egyptian Coptic Orthodox, have a "good reputation", be at
least 35 years of age and have not been convicted of any
crimes affecting honor or status.

The Altar's Ballot

6. (U) Following the vote, the Election Committee formally
nominates the three highest vote-getters. On the altar
during Mass, from a sealed box with the three nominees' names
written on slips of paper, a blindfolded young boy, selected
at random from the congregation, picks the new Patriarch, and
the selection is announced by formal decree.

Bishop Maximous

7. (SBU) Russian-ordained Max Michel, calling himself
Archbishop Maximous I, of the unlicensed St. Athanasious
Church in Egypt, has exploited the Pope's illness to draw
attention to his breakaway congregation. Michel seeks to
establish his own Coptic denomination separate from the
Pope's authority. Michel's actions, including plans to
appoint his own subordinate bishops, coupled with his
repeated chastisement of the Pope in the press, have caused
great anxiety within the Coptic Orthodox Church, especially
during the Pope's medical absence and talk of papal
succession. Michel, in his 50s, reportedly was educated for a
brief time in Nebraska. In several interviews over the last
few months, Michel has cited a February 13, 2006 letter to
claim that Secretary Rice supports his cause. The letter
appears to be some sort of notarial which does not address
the merits at all. And it is not clear how the Secretary's
name is used. The Ambassador, in a July 4 interview with
al-Watani, stated that the U.S. Government has no
relationship with Bishop Maximous and takes no position at
all in church politics.

8. (SBU) Comment: At a time when talk of papal succession and
a rogue bishop crowd the air, Pope Shenouda will likely use
his return to Egypt to reaffirm his improving health and
control over the papacy. Sources have suggested that the
Pope will "arrange institutional matters" before attending an
annual celebration of his ordainment as a monk on July 17 and
before possibly returning to Munich for follow-up back
treatment later in the month. President Mubarak's multiple
calls to the Pope speak as much to the government's concern
about the Patriarch's health as they do about papal
succession and the perceived political strength concomitant
with the papacy. A new Pope will face a number of
controversial issues, including the Church's normalization
with Israel and its relationship with political Islam. Some
commentators have indicated a new Pope would have no other
choice except to focus on the institutionalization of the
Coptic Orthodox Church in the wake of its expansion across
borders, including dioceses in the U.S., Europe, Africa, and
Latin America.

© Scoop Media

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